NEW YORK - Phil Jackson may be at the top of the Brooklyn Nets’ coaching wish list to replace the fired Avery Johnson. Whether he’s interested is the bigger question.
The 67-year-old Jackson, an 11-time National Basketball Association champion coach, is the No. 1 target of the Nets, ESPN.com reported Thursday citing unidentified people familiar with the situation. Jackson’s agent, Todd Musburger, told NBA.com that Jackson has no interest in the job at this time.
The Nets fired Johnson Thursday after losing 10 of 13 games following an 11-4 start. General Manager Billy King said the search for Johnson’s successor would begin immediately, with P.J. Carlesimo, 63, running the team on an interim basis. King declined to address the report about Jackson.
“I’m not going to comment on anybody we’re supposedly going to reach out to,” King said at a news conference. “At this point, P.J. is our coach. I’ll be in constant contact with ownership, but right now we’re going to give all our support to P.J. and see how it goes.”
While luring Jackson out of retirement probably would be expensive - he made $12 million per year in his final seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers from 2009 to 2011 - Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov has spent money aggressively to upgrade the roster.
Adding Jackson would be another salvo in the Nets’ budding New York rivalry with the Knicks, who at 21-8 have the second- best record in the Eastern Conference. Jackson was a reserve on the Knicks’ 1973 NBA championship team.
The Nets’ slide has dropped them into third place in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division with a 14-14 record. All- Star guard Deron Williams, who is shooting a career-low 39.8 percent, criticized Johnson’s offensive system last week and King said Thursday that Johnson wasn’t reaching the players anymore.
“The writing was on the wall,” said former NBA Most Valuable Player Charles Barkley, who’s now an analyst for Turner Network Television. “It goes one of two ways - you either start winning or, if you keep losing, the coach is going to get fired.”
Jackson’s 11 titles as coach of the Lakers and Chicago Bulls are an NBA record, and it’s not known whether he’d come out of retirement to coach a team that’s not considered a championship contender. The Nets have 30-1 odds to win the NBA title at the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book, 10th out of the league’s 30 teams.
Former Phoenix Suns General Manager Steve Kerr, who won five NBA titles as a player and now works as a TNT analyst, said the Nets’ vacancy lacks appeal for a coach as accomplished as Jackson, who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach in 2007.
“It’s an average to decent team,” Kerr said on TNT. “They probably should be in the playoffs this year, but they’re capped out for the next five years. They’ve got these huge contracts with guys who are good players, but not great players. Deron Williams hasn’t been himself for two years now and Joe Johnson is on the down side of his career.”
Johnson is making $19.7 million this season, while Williams has a $17.2 million salary. Brook Lopez is under contract for $13.7 million this year, with Kris Humphries getting $12 million and Gerald Wallace $9.7 million.
The Nets, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2007, traded for Joe Johnson, a six-time All-Star, during the offseason, while re-signing Williams, Lopez, Humphries and Wallace. Brooklyn’s postseason drought is tied for the NBA’s third-longest.
“It’s a team that’s going to have a lot of difficulty righting the ship and making any changes personnel-wise over the next few years,” Kerr said. “So I think it’s a really difficult job to step in right now.”
Jackson flirted with a return to coaching this season when the Lakers fired Mike Brown after five games. He was passed over in favor of Mike D’Antoni, the former coach of the Suns, Knicks and Denver Nuggets.
Barkley said D’Antoni’s up-tempo offensive style would have been perfect for Brooklyn’s personnel. Jackson is a proponent of the so-called triangle offense, in which players are asked to read the defense and react by making the proper pass.
“They should be one of the three or four best teams in the East with all of the talent they have,” Barkley said on TNT. “They need to play at a much faster pace. They have too much talent to be walking the ball up and down the court. There’s one coach in the NBA who plays that way and it’s Mike D’Antoni, and he’s got a job now.”